Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Curse of Kuroda

Hiroki Kuroda is a very good pitcher. Since coming over to America in 2008, he's posted a 3.62 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. However, he's no Roy Halladay … or Johan Santana … or CC Sabathia … or any other Cy Young winner or candidate. That is, unless he's facing the Phillies in the regular season.

For those of you who managed to stay up for last night's game, you know that Kuroda gave up just 1 hit in his 7 and two-thirds innings of work, striking out seven Phillies — but not Ryan Howard! — to combine with Hong-Chih Kuo for the shutout. It was the fourth time in his career that Kuroda faced the Phillies in the regular season, and it was the fourth time he's given up two hits or less.

In those four starts, he's surrendered a total of just seven hits and two runs. The Phillies are batting .084 against him, with an on-base percentage of .172, slugging percentage of .108 and OPS of .280. The Phillies cannot touch the guy. And it makes absolutely no sense.

Don't get me wrong — like I said, Kuroda is a good pitcher. But, well, he's not a great pitcher. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And he's not a left-handed pitcher, the type that can give Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and company fits. He's just a good, solid right-handed pitcher with good control. The type of guy you'd expect the Phillies to be able to hit — though maybe not with this year's struggles.

The only time the Phils have actually gotten to Kuroda was last October. The weird thing is the Phillies didn't just chip away at Kuroda and scratch and claw for runs in game 3 of last year's NLCS. No, they completely blitzed him, chasing him after just an inning and a third by clobbering him for six runs on six hits.

So how is it that the Phillies can manage to completely and utterly embarrass Kuroda on the biggest stage, yet can't even manage to get more than a hit or two against him in the regular season? I mean, in that playoff game, they scored four more runs than they have in four career regular season starts, and had just one less hit than they have all-time against him.

It's some sort of odd curse that only seems to be broken in October, which I suppose is the best time to reverse the fortunes. Though it would be nice if once, just once, the Phillies could manage to hit the guy during the regular season. Then again, at this point, I'll just settle for them hitting anyone right now. This offense needs a good talking to.

And perhaps a little Dom Brown?

BallHype: hype it up!

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Balk, the Slide, the Sweep, the Hit and the Bad Offensive Line

This weekend was a blur for me. A bunch of my roommate's buddies from high school came to town along with another crew of people we went to college with for our fantasy football draft yesterday. Naturally, we got incredibly drunk, ate copious amounts of awful food and spent little time sleeping. It wasn't exactly a relaxing weekend.

That doesn't mean I missed all the goings on in the Philadelphia sports sphere however. Far from it. In the midst of the drunken debacle, I made sure to watch every last minute of the Eagles and Phillies.

Here's a quick-hit of what stood out in my mind.

First and foremost, the Eagles offensive line once again looked like complete and utter dog shit. Todd Herremans was the only one that really looked remotely good at all. Jason Peters is a damn moron, false-starting about 75 times, not to mention getting shown up on several occasions by my former Penn State classmate (as far as graduation is concerned, not actually in any of my classes) Tamba Hali. Stacy Andrews and Matt McGlynn are pretty terrible. And Winston Justice didn't really stand out one way or the other. As a result, Kevin Kolb was often running for his life, and naturally, he looked awful too. It's hard to envision Kolb being the quarterback the organization has been hyping up as the real deal with such an atrocious offensive line.

Beyond that, the Eagles royally pissed me off with their first offensive play call. In the preseason, against the Chiefs, the first play they run from scrimmage is a swing pass to DeSean Jackson with a sea of Chiefs ready to pummel him. DeSean tried to get what he could, put his head down and hurt himself when he took a huge shot. Awesome. Here's a note to Andy Reid and Marty "We'll take the wind" — Don't put your star offensive weapon in danger in a fucking preseason game! Thankfully, DeSean should be fine, but that was a dumb play call, to risk injuring DeSean, in a preseason game.

Second, when Trent Cole hurt his ankle, the Chiefs were in the hurry-up. Since Cole didn't stay down, he had to remain in for another play before the Eagles got him out. I was yelling at the TV, "GET HIM OUT! TRENT IS HURT! GET HIM OUT! CALL TIMEOUT! GO DOWN! WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!?" Instead both the Eagles and Cole let this happen.

Listen guys, it's the preseason. You don't want anyone to get hurt, but you especially don't want your best offensive player and your best defensive player to get hurt. And if they do, you want to get them off the field as soon as is humanly possible. Trent Cole should have stayed down, no doubt. But when he didn't, the coaches should have recognized that he was hurt, like anyone watching the game on TV could see, and gotten him out. Call timeout — instead of the awful Andy timeouts that were taken at horrible times in the game, per usual — or even take a penalty. Trent Cole's health is far more vital to the season than what goes on in a preseason game against the Chiefs. I was pretty upset with the play call for DeSean and the handling of Cole's ankle injury. Luckily, it sounds like both players will be just fine. Thank god.

As far as that horrendous game, the highlight was without question Asante's surprising hit on rookie Dexter McCluster, perhaps the only player smaller than Samuel on the field.

That was impressive indeed. Of course, later in the game Samuel was all lined up for a tackle and then just moved out of the way. I don't mean got juked or missed or anything like that. He was there, primed and in position to make a tackle, but then just decided, "Fuck it, it's preseason, I'm not even going to try." I shit you not. Frankly, I'm OK with it in the preseason. In the regular season, not so much. Either way, that was more like the Asante we all know and love/hate.

For the most part, the defense looked good again, but then again, the Chiefs suck. I was thoroughly impressed with Travard Lindley and Dimitri Patterson at corner, and apparently, I'm not the only one. Maybe there's more depth in the secondary than we all thought. Too bad there isn't much on the offensive line.

Of course, the biggest highlight of all on Friday night was Jimmy getting his Matrix-slide on.

As you all know, that came to be after Brad Lidge unbelievably balked in the tying run in the 9th, blowing the save and costing Roy Oswalt a win, which is really a shame. Oswalt was phenomenal again, tossing 8 innings of 5-hit, one-run ball, striking out 6 Padres and walking none. The man has been tremendous.

A lot of people have questioned Charlie Manuel's decision to lift Oswalt for a pinch-hitter in the 9th, thus not allowing Roy to complete his own game. I respectfully disagree with anyone who had a problem with this because it was still just a 2-1 game at the time. The Phillies needed to try to get some insurance runs. It didn't work out that way, and Brad Lidge wound up blowing the save, but I think it was the right move.

The decision I feel deserves more ire is Manuel's decision to intentionally walk Adrian Gonzalez in the bottom of the 9th, putting the go-ahead run on base. I know Gonzalez is the one real lone threat in San Diego's lineup, but honestly, I just don't agree with putting the tying run on base. Not in that ballpark, a place that is so hard to hit home runs in. And not with Brad Lidge on the mound, a guy who seems to get more ragged and unfocused with more runners on base.

That move put two runners on with two out, and Lidge began to unravel. He got ahead of Ryan Ludwick 0-2, then hit him with the third pitch to load the bases. And then the balk ensued, one of the strangest things I've ever seen. Can someone explain to the world why Brad Lidge just decided to stop his motion? Just lob one outside if you lost the grip or don't like the pitch. Don't balk. Damn.

The good news is, even with that horrible blown save and questionable decisions, the Phillies won, with Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin pitching wonderfully in the 10th, 11th and 12th.

And on Saturday, Lidge redeemed himself with a perfect 9th inning, picking up the save behind another excellent outing by Joe Blanton. Blanton surrendered just one run and six hits in 6 innings of work, and he even got through the first with no runs. He's starting to finally come around too, adding even more depth behind Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels. Shane Victorino's two-RBI day earned him offensive player of the game honors, seeing as he had two of the three hits the Phillies got in the entire game.

The offense hasn't exactly shown back up, but the Phils went ahead and completed the sweep yesterday by exploding for 5 runs — on just 5 hits and thanks to 4 San Diego errors, but hey, still, 5 runs! Cole continued his rejuvenated season, dominating the Padres for 8 innings of shutout ball, striking out 6 while giving up just four hits. Hamels certainly looks like an ace once again.

Meanwhile, Mike Sweeney hit his first home run as a Phillie, giving Ryan Howard and his strikeouts a day off, and hugged everyone in sight.

To wrap up last week, the Phils completely embarrassed themselves at home in getting swept by the Houston Astros. One weekend series later, they turn it around by sweeping the team with the best record in the National League in their own park, pulling back to within two games of Atlanta and retaking the Wild Card lead from San Francisco, up a game and a half. Talk about a reversal of fortunes.

Tonight the Phils get started late, taking on the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine at 10:10 p.m. minus Manny.

Even more importantly for Philadelphia, Jonathan Broxton and his haunted self are still in Los Angeles.

Halladay vs. Kuroda tonight. I like the Phillies' chances.

BallHype: hype it up!

Friday, August 27, 2010

I Miss Basketball Links

You know what's weird? We're in the stretch run of the Major League Baseball season, the NFL is about to kick off and I watched a replay of game 4 of the Flyers-Bruins series — you know, the one where Simon Gagne returned from injury to score the overtime winner and propel the Flyers to the greatest comeback in NHL history — yet for some reason I have basketball on my mind today.

So here's some basketball links …

-Kobe's dad could throw down. Just ask Kareem.

-So could Dr. J. Just ask Kareem.

-Brandon Jennings to John Wall creates magic, via TrueHoop.

-Agreed, Tyreke's jump shot does look better. A lot better, via TrueHoop.

-Just another reason I think I'd get along quite well with Holly MacKenzie: The Slept-on Files featuring Jrue Holiday.

-Kevin Durant's boy Deuce Bello putting on a show.

-Delonte got suspended for 10 games after pleading guilty to this.

-This 11-year-old looks like he's already better than half the Sixers.

His name is Damon Harge.

-5 NBA players that deserve their own statue:

3. Allen Iverson (Philadelphia)
To say Iverson was the heart and soul of Philadelphia would be an understatement. Iverson was the pride of the city during his run with the 76ers. In his prime, he was on top of the world, even without a championship. Iverson was at one point the most beloved player in the League; it got to the point where you couldn’t walk outside without seeing someone in an Iverson jersey, especially in Philly.

During his time with the Sixers he won Rookie of the Year, MVP and four scoring titles, but what really won over the hearts of fans in Philly was his passion and energy. Iverson also revolutionized the game with his swag, starting several NBA trends (cornrows, headbands, arm sleeves, widespread tattoos) and made a huge impact in the hip-hop culture. His impact on and off the court helped shape the NBA and made him a Philadelphia legend along the lines of Dr. J, Mike Schmidt and Bobby Clarke, and there is absolutely no reason Iverson shouldn’t have his own statue at the Wachovia Center.

I couldn't agree more.

-Kwame Brown and Michael Jordan — together again.

-Really in-depth, thoughtful breakdown of Andre Iguodala, and some potential trades that probably won't happen. Honestly, great work, and pretty dead-on assessment of Andre Iguodala's career:

Throw everything together and what you get is the rare type of player who is somehow both overrated and underrated at the same time.

Which is why sometimes I love watching Iguodala play and other times I absolutely hate it.

-A history of Jordan commercials, via Ball Don't Lie.

-MJ breaking a backboard.

-OK, one non-basketball link. Matt P. of The700Level did a tremendous job with the Flyers Mount Puckmore over at Puck Daddy.

BallHype: hype it up!

The Big Question

Just last week, the Phillies were emitting a familiar feeling, demoralizing opponents' bullpens, putting up runs and winning games in every conceivable way. They vaulted past San Francisco and St. Louis to take the lead in the Wild Card and were breathing down the necks of the Braves.

A little more than a week later, the Phillies are still right there, just a half game behind the Giants in the Wild Card and three games behind Atlanta in the division, the but that feeling of sudden invincibility that this team has displayed the past three seasons in the 2nd half is waning. The Phillies just got swept by the laughably terrible Astros at home. In four games. They aren't hitting at all. And they've reverted back to the team that has struggled to find any consistency at the plate most of this year.

With everyone finally healthy, it was expected that the Phils would begin to pull away and make their annual late-season push — just as they did in 2007, 2008 and 2009. I still think that can happen and will happen … but not as sure as I've been he past few years. Why? Because, lest we forget, the Phillies have successfully gone on these tears in late August all the through September largely on the considerable shoulders of Ryan Howard.

From August (actually July, as well) on, Howard typically puts this offense on his back and carries the Phillies to the playoffs. For his career, he is a .279 hitter in the month of August and a .314 hitter in September (his highest average of any month). He's hit 52 home runs in September (more than any other month) and 44 in August (third behind only July). August is when he begins to heat up, setting the stage to be the game's most dangerous hitter in September. For his career, his numbers are off charts in September: .426 on-base percentage, .686 slugging percentage and 1.112 OPS.

In 2007, Howard hit 18 home runs and drove in 50 runs in September and August, leading the Phils to the NL East title. In 2008, he had 11 home runs and 32 RBIs as he hit .352 with a .422 OBP, .852 slugging percentage and 1.274 OPS in September to help spark the Phils to a World Championship. And last season, Howard batted .299 in August, driving in 33 runs and hitting 11 bombs before hitting .303 in September with 8 homers and 30 RBIs as the Phils set the stage to return to the World Series.

Essentially, Ryan Howard has been this team's offense down the stretch. But can you really count on him going on one of those late-season tears this season? He was just out for nearly month, and since his return looks completely lost at the plate. He's flailing at breaking balls, missing fastballs, striking out like crazy, something he hasn't done nearly as much this season. He looks like a player that has missed considerable time, like a player that may take a while to get his timing and confidence back.

I'm not saying he can't do it or won't do it. Like I said, I expect him to. Ryan Howard is by no means a perfect player, but he's a guy who has improved every single year, and a guy who has come up big when his team has really needed him the most since day one. But it just may not happen given the amount of time he's missed.

This is usually when Ryan Howard carries the Phillies to the playoffs. The time when he goes on a tear so impressive that he enters the MVP discussions. But with September right around the corner, Howard is just looking to get his bearings so he has a chance to get to that point. Usually by this time, he's not concerned about making contact, he's concerned with how far the balls he hits will travel.

Hopefully Howard can adjust quickly from the long layoff — and Chase Utley for that matter. Because the way the Phillies are hitting right now and the way they've hit most of the season, they're going to need him. They need Ryan Howard to do the heavy lifting once again. The question is, will the time he missed due to his ankle injury let him?

BallHype: hype it up!

It's Friday, Time to Dance

Coming off one of the most embarrassing four-game sweeps in the history of baseball, the Phillies will try to pick themselves up with a West Coast road trip that begins tonight in San Diego. I'm sure the Padres' MLB-best ERA will do wonders for the Phils' anemic bats.

Anyway, the Phils are in San Diego. Two of their games start in the late afternoon (tomorrow and Sunday). So naturally, Anchorman time.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Disgrace of Base Running

Don't turn around, or you might get picked off second. Or caught stealing third. Or fumble around the base and get picked off third.

Three games at home against the terrible Astros. Three losses. Three terrible base-running errors. Unreal.

On Wednesday, it was Jayson Werth. With the Phillies up by a run in the 6th inning, Jayson Werth was on second base, in scoring position as a potentially huge insurance run. Then, he gets picked off second … by the catcher … on an intentional fucking walk. That ended the inning, the controversial tag/no tag, in the base path/out of the base path call ensued, and the Phillies lost by a run.


Then on Tuesday, with the Phillies trailing by a run in the 7th inning, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco got back-to-back walks with one out. Rollins was the tying run firmly planted in scoring position on second base. In the 7th inning. With just one out. With Chase Utely up and Ryan Howard on deck. So what does Jimmy do? He stupidly attempts to steal third, getting picked off. That means now it would take a two-out hit to tie the game, with Polanco now on second. Instead, Chase flew out, and Howard was left on deck. And of course, the Phillies lost again.

It was incredibly stupid for a number of reasons. One, Rollins was already in scoring position as the tying run, meaning even if Utley got out, Howard would have a chance to drive him in — you know, your team's best two hitters and RBI men over the past five years, albeit two guys who are struggling after missing so much time. Second, Utley rarely grounds into double plays, so trying to take that out of the equation is pointless. Third, you're down a god damn run. You don't try to steal third when you're losing and you represent the tying run.

Yeah, he did crush that home run to tie it, but that doesn't make the base-running play any less stupid. And the Phils lost anyway, in 16 long, absurd innings that saw Ryan Howard ejected, Raul Ibanez put at first and Roy Oswalt shagging a fly ball in left against his old team, and all the circumstances that led to it:

Then last night, again with the Phillies down a run, Ben Francisco gets picked off third. It was just too much to take. Sitting on third as the tying run with two outs in the 7th and Jimmy Rollins at the plate, one of the few players that actually has made a habit of getting hits with runners in scoring position this year, Ben Francisco was clumsily going back to third after a pitch, looking at second and completely losing sight of the bag despite not being far away from it at all. He fumbled around with his foot trying to find the bag, which Humberto Quintero noticed, so he fired. As Francisco tried to get his foot back down on the bag, he stumbled on Chris Johnson's foot and was tagged out before he could get back on the base. Un-fucking-believable.

"Hey Ben, we are both fucking idiots …"

Naturally, the Phillies lost by a run yet again, failing to capitalize on another Braves' loss yet again.

Listen, the Phillies didn't necessarily lose any of these three horrific games against the Astros because of these plays, but they certainly were huge. The Phillies aren't hitting. Not one bit. And that sucks. And is pretty pathetic. But with the middle of the order — Utley and Howard — just returning from the DL, their rustiness and frankly horrendous hitting since returning is unsurprising. Add in the fact that this team has struggled offensively throughout much of the season, and these things happen. Even against the shitty Astros. It may be ill-timed, but these hitting slumps happen.

What can't happen, ever, especially in the middle of a death race for the playoffs, is ridiculously dumb baseball. And that's exactly what's happened with the Phillies in the first three games of a four-game set, at home, against the Astros. These three ridiculous base-running blunders highlight that fact.

I'm sorry, but that just can not happen. Can't. It's absurd. Inexcusable. Embarrassing.

Now the Phils are once again tied with San Francisco in the Wild Card, and they're still 2.5 games behind Atlanta in the division despite Atlanta doing everything in its power to hand the NL East over to the Phils.

These guys better wake the hell up, and they better start this afternoon against Houston. Getting swept by the Astros is not an option. Not in late August. Not with so much at stake. Then again, it's pretty likely, considering the Phils have their fifth starter in the being of Kyle Kendrick going up against the lefthanded Wandy Rodriguez.

Let's hope the good Kyle shows up. And the bats. The Phils really need it.

BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dear Jayson, Stop Getting Picked Off Second

In my haste to get a post out this morning, I completely forgot to mention yet another boneheaded play by Jayson Werth on the base paths last night.

With the Phillies up 2-1 in the bottom of the 6th, Werth doubled with one out. Raul Ibanez followed by striking out. With the most clutch catcher in the world stepping to the plate, the Astros wisely decided to intentionally walk Ruiz to get to weak-hitting Wilson Valdez. Nothing exciting could possibly happen on an intentional walk, right? Wrong. Because as Ruiz was trotting down to first after intentional ball four, Houston catcher Humberto Quintero noticed Jayson Werth had wandered off the bag at second and was lackadaisically heading back with his head down. Quintero fired to second and picked off Werth to end the inning. It was the second time in two and half weeks that Werth was picked off second, and this one was even worse.

For starters, it was a one-run game at the time, meaning a hit by Valdez would have been huge, especially considering the Phils wound up losing by a run. Secondly, he got picked off AFTER AN INTENTIONAL WALK! The pitcher didn't even pick him off, the catcher did, after receiving intentional ball four. Unbelievable.

How many times has this guy been picked off in a big situation, especially second? Remember, this isn't exactly new for Jayson. He got picked off second in Game 3 of the 2008 World Series as well.

The question is, how the hell does he let this happen? How can the same guy who I witnessed steal home live and in-person get picked off second numerous times?

How does a guy who stole and 2nd and 3rd in 2007 off Billy Wagner to help propel the Phillies to their first NL East title in forever get picked off second? How does an otherwise heads-up, smart baserunner get picked off second? How does he continue to let this happen?

Because he's an idiot, that's why. Wake the hell up, Jayson. You're in the middle of a god damn playoff chase for fuck's sake. Stop getting picked off second. And start hitting some home runs too while you're at it. You idiot.

And note to the Phillies: Perhaps you should take a page out of Houston's playbook and, you know, intentionally walk a guy every now and then. Like, say, Carlos Lee in the 8th inning. Especially considering some guy named Chris Johnson who was 0-for-3 at the time was batting behind him. I don't know, call me crazy, but I'd rather make a nobody named Chris Johnson beat me than an established veteran RBI machine in Carlos Lee — a Carlos Lee who has actually resembled his former self since the all-star break.

Then again, I tend to advocate playing smart baseball, something Jayson Werth (and Ryan Howard for that matter — just flip the damn thing to Chase!) and the Phillies werent' all that interested in last night. Idiots.

Also, way to pop up that sacrifice attempt in the 9th, Wilson. They should have pinch-hit with Oswalt. We all know he'd get that bunt down.

BallHype: hype it up!

Flying Like a Hawkins

As you know, the Phillies lost thanks to a blown save by Ryan Madson that was aided by the umpires (Michael Bourn was most definitely out of the base path) and Ryan Howard being a complete idiot. Can anyone explain to me why Howard didn't just the flip the ball to Chase at first instead of trying to tag a guy who he knows — you know, seeing as Bourn was his teammate and all — is incredibly fast and elusive?

That was a tough one to swallow, blowing a lead in the 8th, losing a game in which Joe Blanton miraculously only surrendered one run, and letting Brett Myers stick it to the Phillies, which he did.

Thanks for blowing that save "Mad Dog." I'm so happy I could lick you!

Myers was pretty awesome in his return to Citizens Bank Park, going 7 innings and surrendering just two runs while striking nine of his former teammates to pick up the win thanks to his old buddy Ryan Madson. His ERA is now down to 3.08 on the season. Who knew Brett would finally find the consistency we were all looking for a year after battling injury and two years after being sent down to the minors? Not me.

Anyway, all that shit sucked donkey balls. There's absolutely no way this team, in a heated playoff race, should lose a game to the Astros when Joe Blanton gives you seven innings of one-run ball. But they did.

Luckily, my emotions were somewhat calmed when I saw some guy named Lavelle Hawkins — who apparently played at Cal with DeSean — do this in the Cardinals-Titans preseason game last night.

Hersey Hawkins would be so proud.

The Eagles offensive line sucks.

BallHype: hype it up!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Terrible Life Choices Links

When I was younger, I was under the impression that the older I got, the more I would know, the better I would be at living life. Turns out I was way off.

No matter how old I get or how high my hairline rises, I continue to make terrible life choices. Like eating a cheesesteak at 3 in the morning. Or procrastinating at work (like I'm doing right now). Or drinking excessively on a weeknight or the night before a game. Just about everything I do these days negatively affects my life in some way, whether it be physically, mentally or professionally. But I just can't help it. My driver's license says I'm 26 years old, but my brain tells me I'm a 16-year-old moron.

All this makes me wonder if I'll ever wake up one day and become a real person. Don't get me wrong, every male adult has an immature side, is a juvenile at heart. But I really can't perform the most basic of adult tasks. And I don't have any real desire to, even though I know that's what I'm supposed to do. Like I said, I'm not a real person. I'm really not.

Links …

-File this under "News I didn't expect to see today" — Shawn Andrews, yes that Shawn Andrews, has signed with the Giants. If you recall, Andrews broke his leg in his very first game in the NFL … against the New York Giants.

I think Matt P. does a great job summing up pretty much everyone's feeling on this in Philadelphia — we hope he's gotten his demons under control, but we also hope he doesn't return to form playing for the Giants. Because before his depression issues took hold, Andrews was one of the, if not the, best guards in all of football, a true beast who was equally as good at run blocking as he was at pass blocking. And for a big man, he could get out and clear the way on screens as good as anyone. Here's hoping he doesn't return to that player as a division rival. That would be annoying.

-The Phillies have an unbalanced bullpen. Really, who besides Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin and (gulp!) Brad Lidge has been reliable of late?

-Yeah, that's impressive:

-Unsung World Fucking Champions hero Pedro Feliz, who drove in the WS-winning run, has been mercifully sent to St. Louis, saved from the depths of hell, also known as Houston.

-Q&A with Evan Turner. He sounds boring.

-Antone has been on fire lately. Here's dunks from Steve Francis, Andre Iguodala and Vince Carter:

-This is nothing short of a TrueHoop Gem:

-Phillies prospect Tyson Gillies has a little Rick James in him.

Not good.

-More from Iguodala:

-An interesting take on Josh Howard's career.

-A lot of MIke Tyson Punch-Out here.

-What if Red Sox fans aren't the best in the world? penned by one of their own. For a Boston fan, he seems all right.

Phillies start a three-game set with Washington tonight, and the Birds are out in Cincy to take on Terrell Owens and the Bengals. Good thing our new TV arrived last night. That's right, back up and running with dual TVs in the living room.

BallHype: hype it up!

It's Friday, Time to Dance

This really has nothing to do with anything sports-related, but the documentary on the White Stripes, "Under the Great White Northern Lights," has been on a decent amount recently, and it's pretty awesome. So enjoy.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Paul Jones Redshirted

Coming off another 11-win season in 2009, the burning question for Penn State's 2010 campaign was who will replace Daryll Clark at quarterback. Seeing as Kevin Newsome was the backup last year as a true freshman, all signs pointed to him being the starter in 2010.

The thing is, Newsome didn't look all that great last year in limited time, and he hasn't pulled away from the pack yet. So Penn State went into the summer with a four-man competition at quarterback — Newsome, Matt McGloin and a pair of highly touted recruits, Paul Jones and Robert Bolden. After watching Newsome struggle and witnessing his funky mechanics, I think most Penn State fans felt the way I did, that they'd like to see either Paul Jones or Robert Bolden beat out Newsome and McGloin. Well, one thing we know for certain now is that it won't be Paul Jones under center in 2010, because the coaching staff has decided to redshirt hiim.

Now it's a three-man race between Newsome, McGloin and Bolden, and by all accounts, Bolden has been the most impressive of the bunch. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't rooting for him, if for no other reason that I'm weary of Newsome's ability to throw the ball given his mechanics. Not that I'm rooting against Newsome. In fact, the only one I don't want to see under center is McGloin. With three highly recruited running backs on campus, the last thing I want to see is the one no one wanted leading the team. I'd rather give Bolden or Newsome a chance to get a year of experience and grow with this relatively young team.

Black Shoe Diaries did a three-part series on the quarterback competition. The biggest revelation from that tremendous breakdown is that, just like Pat Devlin, one of these guys is probably going to transfer. With Paul Jones getting redshirted, it may be him. Then again, if Bolden loses out to Newsome, it could be him. Regardless, it's a nice problem to have. Too many talented quarterbacks is much better than none at all.

By the way, Pat Devlin was named to the Walter Payton Award Watch List.

It would be really nice to have him under center this year.

BallHype: hype it up!

Apparently, Antonio Cromartie Doesn't Know What a Condom Is

Or birth control. Or pulling out.

After watching the Phillies win yet again, I tuned in to HBO's Hard Knocks because that show is awesome and Rex Ryan is the man. Just like episode one, it was tremendous, but the highlight this time around wasn't Rex Ryan and his awesome speeches. No, the star of this episode, as KSK correctly pointed out, was Antonio Cromartie. Seriously, watch that again:

For the record, that man is 26 years old and has so many kids he can barely remember all their names. And almost all of them are 3 years old. God damn, someone fell asleep during sex education classes.

BallHype: hype it up!

Familiar Feeling

Don't look now, but your Philadelphia Phillies are suddenly looking every bit like the team we've come to expect over these past few years. The team that has won three straight NL East titles, gone to two straight World Series. The team that became World Fucking Champions.

Great pitching. Clutch hits. Tremendous defense. Explosive innings. Comebacks. Lockdown bullpen. Dramatic finishes. It's all been there since the calendar flipped to August. Since the 8th month of the year began, the Phillies have gone 12-3. They've won every series thus far, including this series with San Francisco that concludes tonight no matter what happens in that game. They've overtaken the Giants for the Wild Card lead, and somehow, despite losing Chase and Jimmy and Howard and Polanco and Victorino and Ruiz — only five all-stars and six starters, including the entire infield — all for extended periods of time, the Phillies are just 2.5 games out of first place. Essentially, they and they alone can determine who finishes first as long as they can stay within three games of the Braves come September. That series in Citizens Bank Park Sept. 20-22 is looming large.

The Braves have to be feeling the pressure. Everyone in the National League has to. The Phillies have been severely banged up all season long, and yet the rest of the league couldn't pull away from them. Now they're getting healthy just in time for the home stretch, with Ryan Howard's return right around the corner. You're getting the feeling that these guys can just taste it, and they're hungry for more. They don't want to rest on their laurels, use the injuries as an excuse. No, they want to get back to the postseason, get back to the World Series. Try to win this whole thing again. Right now, they're beginning to look like a team that's capable of exactly that.

Last night was yet another example. They fell behind early as Joe Blanton surrendered a solo home run to lead off the game, continuing his first-inning struggles. But from there, Blanton settled down, pitched 6 and a third innings of two-run ball, struck out 7.

Between that first and last batter Blanton faced, the Phillies turned a 1-0 deficit into a 5-1 and eventually 5-2 lead, led by the man at the top, the guy who when he's going right at the plate, the Phillies don't lose. Jimmy Rollins hasn't had the kind of year he's capable of. He's been hurt, and frankly, he hasn't hit. But much like this team is turning it on when it matters most, so is Rollins. The guy loves the limelight, lives for it. Sometimes, it's annoying and cocky and a little overboard. But it's what makes Jimmy so great. He lives for the big moments, loves the pressure, and more times than not, he comes through.

With the Phils trailing 1-0 in the 3rd, Rollins led off with a triple, putting a runner on third with no one out. Two batters later, Chase Utley did exactly what an unselfish, smart baseball player should do — he pulled the ball on the ground to the 2nd baseman, who was playing back, allowing Rollins to score easily.

An inning later, Rollins came through again, making the Giants pay dearly for an error to give the Phils extra life. Though it was Carlos Ruiz — the most clutch hitter all season for the Phillies —  who got things going first. Jayson Werth led off with a single. After Shane grounded out, Ross Gload hit a grounder to second, an easy play for Mike Fontenot to record the 2nd out. Only Fontenot booted the ball, putting runners on first and second with one out and Curbball at the dish. Ruiz continued to come up big, smoking a single in the hole between third and short, giving the Phils the lead. This coming after Carlos had already tripled — yeah, I said tripled — in the second. The man is a hitting machine.

And suddenly, so is Rollins again. Because two batters later, Rollins dropped the head on an inside pitch, sending it out to right, 5-2 Phils, game essentially over.

From there, the Phillies cruised. Raul Ibanez hit an RBI triple to plate Chase. Yeah, the Phillies had three triples on the night, including one from lead-foot Raul Ibanez and another from the catcher. I can't make this stuff up. Jayson Werth doubled to score Ibanez. And after Chad Durbin and Ryan Madson — two guys who have suddenly made the weak bullpen look unhittable — pitched flawlessly in relief, Domonic Brown put the exclamation point on the game with a pinch-hit bomb. And I mean bomb.

As in upper deck bomb. Dom absolutely murdered that baseball, something I envision him making a habit of in the very near future. I mean, seriously, damn. Ball go far.

It was a total team effort yet again, though Rollins was the unquestioned star. Jimmy was 3-for-5 with two runs, three RBIs and just a double short of the cycle. Chase got two hits in his second game back, with a swinging bunt base hit giving him the confidence to smoke an RBI double later on. Raul hit a triple and scored a run. Werth was 2-for-4 with a run and RBI. Curbball, same thing, including his surprising triple. Even the guys who didn't get a hit contributed. Ross Gload made a great diving stop. Polanco played flawless third base. And Shane didn't have any "uh-ohs" in centerfield.

For the second straight night, the Phils fell behind a good ball club with great pitching and came back to not only beat them, but destroy them, putting up 9 and 8 runs in the first two games against one of the best pitching staffs — bullpen included — in all of baseball. They go to Barry Zito. And Matt Cain. Might as well get to Jonathan Sanchez tonight.

The way they're going right now, there's a good possibility of that. And more may be in store.

By the good graces of the TV scheduling gods, last night's game was on ESPN and actually not blacked out, due I'm sure to PHL 17 broadcasting the home-town feed last night. Seeing as I can't stand hearing Tom McCarthy's voice, I chose to watch ESPN. Plus, I like hearing what the national broadcasters think about the Phillies and hear what they have to say. After watching last night, I think it's safe to say Aaron Boone, Chris Singleton and Karl Ravech like this Phillies ball club.

Throughout the entire night, Boone and Singleton especially were talking about how hard the Phillies play, singling out Ibanez, a 38-year-old guy, busting his ass for a triple late in the game because that's the atmosphere this team has set. You hustle, you take the extra base, you play as hard as you can. And they were discussing how this team is just starting to sense it, to feel it, and you get the sense the entire league knows it. Their respect for the Phillies emanated through the screen.

And then Boone, who I've really enjoyed listening to in the few games I've heard him broadcast, said something that is truly frightening and quite intuitive at the same time. He said that, considering the Phillies have done this well this far given all the injuries, that this might be the best Phillies team yet if they were to make to postseason play. He went on to talk about how even without all the superstars, they've held pace, and now they're all getting healthy at the right time. Then you throw in a rotation of Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt —  a top three that blows the rotations of the past two World Series years out of the water (Hamels, Myers, Moyer in 2008 and Lee, Hamels, Martinez in 2009) — along with a bullpen that's suddenly looking like its 2008 form and the potential is scary.

Boone makes one hell of a point. And if you take it a step further, with so many bench players playing pivotal roles this season, getting tons of at-bats and playing time due to the injuries, their bench is better than it's ever been under Charlie Manuel too. Think about it — you have this potent lineup, one in which you have Rollins, Polanco, Utley, Howard (when he's back), Werth, Ibanez, Victorino and Ruiz — with Carlos arguably being the most dangerous hitter of them all this season. With Ruiz raking, there isn't a single weak spot in that lineup. Then you have incredible bats off the bench in the form of Mike Sweeney and Ross Gload, both guys who have hit the piss out of the ball. Not to mention Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown as a righty and lefty off the bench to play outfield, and Wilson Valdez to play anywhere defensively, and have virtually no drop-off whatsoever. And then there's the veteran presence of Brian Schneider to relieve Ruiz here and there, not to mention another lefthanded bat.

You can't name a more complete offense than that. And when you're trotting out the likes of Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt, it puts even more pressure on the opposing pitchers. Because you know those three guys aren't going to give up much. Now with the bullpen finally rounding into form, especially Durbin, Madson and Lidge, the late innings aren't as scary anymore. Especially when the offense is punishing the opposition's bullpen the way it has of late.

As ridiculous as it may sound, this Phillies team, as Boone said, just may be the best one yet. Only time will tell, but the fact that this discussion is even being made is remarkable, considering the past two years the Phils have gone to the World Series, won one of them and have faced so many challenges and injuries this year. I can't wait to find out. Because this team is giving us all a familiar feeling, the feeling that they want to have another parade.

BallHype: hype it up!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Bat, the Bunt, the Big Head and the Backstop

Last night's game was much anticipated for a few reasons: The return of Pat Burrell, the return of Chase Utley, Roy Oswalt on the hill, the two teams going at it in a virtual tie for the NL Wild Card lead. But more than anything, what made last night's game so interesting was the little things — good and bad.

Of course, the game began with something big. In the very first inning of his very first game back in Citizens Bank Park since that gigantic double he hit that turned into the winning run (in the form of Eric Bruntlett) on the night the Phillies became World Fucking Champions, Pat Burrell launched a solo home run into those familiar left field stands, giving the Giants a 2-0 lead in the first after receiving a great ovation from the Philadelphia faithful.

Unsurprisingly, those cheers turned into boos when he launched that home run, but that's something Burrell has grown accustomed to over the years in this city as well. It was always that way with Burrell, wild cheers and deafening boos. Why would last night be any different? And Burrell couldn't have been happier with the fans.

Chase Utley's return was considerably less memorable. In his first game back since stupidly injuring himself back in June by unnecessarily trying to stretch a single into a double he had no shot at getting, Utley went 0-for-5 and looked every bit as rusty as you'd expect at the plate after missing more than a month. His hustle did cause a Giants error and get a run home in the 8th, but Utley also made another less-than-wise base-running error immediately after that, though one not even close to as bad as that fateful day in June.

With the Phils exploding for five runs in the 8th and holding a comfortable 9-3 lead, Utley was on second with two outs and Jayson Werth at the dish. Any sort of hit that leaves the infield and Chase scores easily. But when a pitch bounced slightly away from rookie catcher Buster Posey, Utley took off for third. The only problem is the ball didn't get that far away, so Posey easily retrieved it and threw out Chase to end the inning. Now, with the Phils up by six and needing just three more outs, it wasn't a huge deal, but it still wasn't a smart base-running play. That's two dumb base-running errors by Utley in his last two games played, one of which cost him 6 weeks on the field.

That's very uncharacteristic of Chase. He's normally a terrific base-runner, one of the best in baseball. So good that he was one of the players featured in an SI article about base-running. He's aggressive on the base paths, puts pressure on the defense. I get that. But perhaps he should pick his spots a little better, especially in his first game back from the disabled list. I know that's probably too much to ask from Chase, a player who goes all out all the time, but maybe he should just think about it. For a second. Or at least not make anymore dumb aggressive attempts. Just those smart ones we've grown accustomed to.

Anyway, back to last night and the little things. After Oswalt gave up those two runs in the first inning, he settled down and really began to get in a zone. However, Barry Zito was in a zone of his own. He seemed to have no trouble getting the Phillies out at all through the first four innings — well, all the Phillies except Placido Polanco, who was 2-for-2 through four. But then Zito got into a little bit of trouble in the 5th. Mike Sweeney led off with the single. I can't say enough about that pickup. What a huge addition, especially in Ryan Howard's (and Ross Gload's — who came back last night) absence.

Zito came back and got Ibanez to pop out, but then Curbball worked an awesome at-bat, eventually earning the walk after fouling off five pitches. With runners on first and second with no one out, it was Roy Oswalt's job to move the runners along and hope Jimmy Rollins could get a hit to tie the game. Considering all night long Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler wouldn't shut up about how great Oswalt and Zito were at laying down sacrifice bunts, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Oswalt would do his job and advance the runners.

Then he goes and pops up the first bunt attempt foul. And then fouls off another. Not good. With two strikes on him, I had trepidation that he wouldn't get it down. But then, after seeing two balls, Oswalt laid down a picture-perfect but, deadened in between Zito and Posey, advancing Sweeney and Ruiz with two outs. You couldn't have asked for a better bunt with one or no strikes, but to do it with two strikes on him, damn. That was the biggest little play of the game right there. Because two pitches later, Jimmy Rollins turned his clutch on, fighting off a fastball on his hands and serving into centerfield for a two-run single to tie the game.

That got the Phils rolling, and the little things kept piling up. Like a leadoff single by Polanco in the 6th, his third straight hit of the game. Then a double by Jayson Werth, followed by a two-run double by Shane Victorino to give the Phillies a 4-2 lead and chase Zito from the game. And like an impressive inning by Ryan Madson in the 8th after the Giants drew within one in the 7th. Madson got a ground out, then struck out Torres, who reached on a passed ball strikeout, then getting Buster Posey to ground out and topping it all off by striking out Aubrey Huff to end the inning. Suddenly, Ryan Madson looks like his 2008 stretch run self. His changeup is unhittable once more, and his fastball is firing. Given the way he and Brad Lidge have performed the past week-plus, suddenly the bullpen doesn't look so horrible anymore. That's a terrifying proposition for the rest of the National League.

Especially when the Phillies are doing what they're doing of late. That is, resemble the team of the past three years, the team that abuses the opposition's bullpen and puts up huge innings late in games. It was something this team was devoid of much of the season, but not any longer. No, because as the Phils continue to inch closer and closer to the Braves, their late-inning heroics and late-game confidence just seem to grow with each game. Last night was no different.

With the heart of San Francisco's lineup scheduled to bat in the 9th in the form of Burrell, Pablo Sandoval and Jose Guillen, all home run threats, a one-run lead wasn't necessarily safe, even with Brad Lidge suddenly looking like his once-perfect self. So all the Phils did was go out and destroy the heralded Giants bullpen for five runs in the 8th, highlighted by Carlos Ruiz getting yet another late-game, extremely clutch hit.

Shane led the inning off with a single. Then he stole second. Mike Sweeney followed with a walk, and Ibanez followed that with a sharp single to right, loading the bases for Ruiz. Curbball promptly did what he's done all season, smoking a double down the line to plate Victorino and Sweeney, turning a tense 4-3 game into a much more comfortable 6-3 lead with three outs to go. That chased Ishikawa. Pretty soon, those "Chooooooooooooooooooch!!!!" chants are going to turn into "Cluuuuuuuuuuuuuuutch!!!!" chants.

Ross Gload entered to pinch-hit for Madson and grounded out weakly in his first at-bat since tweaking his groin, but it was good just to see him back in the batter's box. Who knows where the Phillies would be without his contributions this season, especially with the way he was murdering the baseball when Ryan Howard went down.

And Jimmy picked him up anyway, getting his second two-run single of the game, and advancing to 2nd on the throw home, to make it an 8-3 game. After advancing on a wild pitch, Rollins scored on an error by Mike Fontenot to complete the five-run 8th. All those little things led to a big inning, and the Phils cruised to a 9-3 victory as Chad Durbin avoided any drama in the 9th. Now the Phils hold sole possession of the NL Wild Card lead — a full game up on San Fran and 1.5 up on St. Louis — and remain 2.5 behind Atlanta for the division.

The Phils obviously have a fourth straight NL East title on their mind, but it's nice to know the Wild Card is there in their back pocket for the time being. And that's all because of the little things last night. Little things like that two-strike bunt by Oswalt, who went 7 innings, surrendering just three runs. Little things like Ruiz working a walk and getting another late-inning RBI hit. Little things like Placido Polanco getting four hits and Jimmy Rollins driving in three runs with a huge two-out hit to tie the game and a late-game hit to provide extra cushion. Little things like a strong outing from the bullpen. Little things like every starter (pitcher excluded) reaching base, all of them but Chase getting a hit, and four guys having multi-hit nights.

The little things add up. And the Phillies have been doing the little things of late, weather it's moving the runner, guys filling in for injured stars, or turning a double play when needed. Now those little things are paying off, and the Phils look more dangerous than ever. Plus, they're doing this all without Ryan Howard right now. Just wait until he gets back and he and Chase get rolling again.

BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Because Sean Considine Worked Out So Well

So I'm scouring over my daily website rotation when I see this headline:

"Eagles Sign Penn State Product, Local Guy Anthony Scirrotto"

Naturally, I click the link and sure enough, it says the Eagles signed Anthony Scirrotto, the boneheaded, overrated safety from Penn State who liked to stir up trouble off the field.

I still couldn't believe it, but sure enough, the Eagles have signed him.

In the big scheme of things, this signing is completely pointless and no reason to illicit much reaction — just because he was signed to the 80-man roster doesn't mean he'll actually be on the squad come the regular season, not with Nate Allen, Quintin Mikell, Quintin Demps and even Victor Harris on the roster. But there is an outside chance, and that's something I want no part of.

Scirrotto came to prominence in 2006 as a sophomore at Penn State, when he led the Big Ten in interceptions with six. This gave people the impression that Scirrotto was a good safety. In actuality, he was not. Not at all. Yes, he did have a nose for the ball in the air, somewhat of a ball-hawk mentality on passes. But he couldn't tackle, couldn't really cover (only play centerfield) and often went for picks he had no chance at getting. He was nothing more than an average at best college safety. Yet there were those six interceptions as a sophomore, and his infinite fair catches as (inexplicably) a punt returner, so people continued to proclaim him a good player.

I'm here to set the record straight as a Penn State alum who watched him play every game for the Nittany Lions. Anthony Scirrotto is not a good safety, and certainly not an NFL-caliber safety. He has all the traits of Sean Considine, minus actually getting drafted. And we all saw how that guy worked out here.

Now, Jordan Norwood and A.Q. Shipley, two other Penn Staters in Eagles camp who probably won't make the team, were actually good players in college. They at least deserve a shot. Not Scirrotto. He sucks.

BallHype: hype it up!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Curious Case of Cole Hamels

As you may have heard, the Phillies took two of three from the Mets up at Citi Field this weekend, drawing to within two games of the Braves in the NL East and pulling even with the Giants in leading the Wild Card. That's good news. However, things didn't start out so great up in Flushing.

We all know that the Phillies had no luck whatsoever in the new ballpark last time, getting swept without scoring a single run over three games. But since the all-star break, the Mets have been awful and the Phils have been rolling, so it was safe to think the Phillies would roll up to New York and make a statement in that first game. They did not, instead getting shut out for the fourth straight game at Citi Field, losing 1-0 to R.A. Dickey, the same R.A. Dickey who I witnessed get shelled in Citizens Bank Park a week earlier. To make it even worse, not only did Dickey shut out the Phils for the second time this year, but the only hit he surrendered came at the hands of opposing pitcher, Cole Hamels.

And that brings me to my main point. Cole Hamels has started 24 games this season for the Phillies. He has a very good 3.33 ERA. He's struck out 157 batters — tied for 4th in the NL —  while only walking 48 in 154 innings. Which is all to say, Cole Hamels has been really, really good in 2010. Yet here he sits, on August 16, with a losing record at 7-9. His last two outings, he's pitched 15 innings of two-run ball, losing both games 1-0. He's surrendered more than three runs just once in his last nine starts, yet only has one win to show for it.

If you recall, Cole suffered a similar fate in 2008, when he finished the regular season with a 3.09 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 196 strikeouts to just 53 walks in 227 and a third innings, yet only finished 14-10. For one reason or another, the Phillies just don't score runs when Hamels is on the mound. On Friday, they didn't even get a hit for him, not a single one. Cole had to do that himself.

So the question has to be asked, why? Why do his teammates seemingly refuse to score runs for him? I think we all know the reason:

BallHype: hype it up!